By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s first-year coach has to be stubborn – to a point – in his approach
GREEN BAY, Wis. – There is a fine line between being demanding and inflexible.
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That may be the single-greatest development that needs to occur at training camp and into the regular season. There must be no doubt who is in charge, for better or worse, going forward.
Mark Murphy fired Mike McCarthy and replaced him with LaFleur for a reason: He decided the team needed new direction under new leadership, and LaFleur was the coach for the job.
He didn’t hire LaFleur to acquiesce to Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers had all the answers they wouldn’t need a head coach.
Clearly, that isn’t the case.
Neither did Murphy hire LaFleur to please the fans.
Murphy hired him to do the job to the best of his ability, based upon his experience, growth potential and stated plan of attack. He hired him to follow through on the game plan he laid out during the exhaustive interview process.
This is LaFleur’s team. This is his offense.
That’s why LaFleur has to be himself while he and the Packers navigate the unknown that is called the upcoming season. That includes his relationship with Rodgers.
Much has been made in the media about the LaFleur-Rodgers relationship and chemistry going forward.
Will Rodgers be able to audible at his discretion? Will LaFleur attempt to rein him in? Will the team feel unified or divided four weeks into the season?
The questions are valid. The concern is premature.
Speculation is pointless.
What matters most is that LaFleur’s decisions go unquestioned – publicly, to be sure – while the team grows under his tutelage and learns to operate within his structure and to trust each other.
Rodgers’ role in this can’t be overstated.
The Packers will follow their head coach, but they’ll also listen to their leaders. The top dog in that regard is Rodgers. LaFleur can chart the course, but Rodgers has to keep them on it.
The only way this works is if Rodgers gives it every chance.
He sets the tone. He calls the shots on the field.
How he and LaFleur navigate the unknown remains to be seen. The best partnerships develop when there is a shared goal, and the genuine belief that each needs the other to achieve it.
I believe that to be the case here.
The hitch is that it can only happen over time.
It’s why I believe the NFL did the Packers a favor by scheduling their season-opener in prime time against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Could there be a greater test in the opener? Not hardly.
If anything will give Packers fans an honest assessment of their team going into the season this opener is it.
The defending NFC North champion Bears will come in looking to validate their title by repeating it. They also will be riled up while trying to defend their home turf in front of hopeful fans.
Chicago has the defense to severely test the Packers’ offense.
Whatever the Packers are doing right under LaFleur should be fairly obvious in the opener. Then again, the Bears’ defense is apt to identify and capitalize on the Packers’ flaws and failings.
It can only expedite the learning process.
Training camp and the preseason will be interesting.
The regular-season opener will be telling.
It will set the bar for expectations going forward.
A Packers’ win in the season opener will cause the prognosticators’ forecasts to skyrocket. In turn, a loss will be scrutinized beyond what’s realistic.
The Bears were 12-4. The Packers were 6-9-1.
The gap may have been even wider than the win-loss records.
Rodgers’ ability to improvise, go off script and deliver has been the deciding factor in the Packers’ recent wins over Chicago. Surely, he’ll be able to do so within LaFleur’s scheme.
“The offense will look a little different, for sure,” Rodgers told ESPN.com. “There’s more motions and different formations than we’ve had in years past, but no. Look, if I could have it my way, I wouldn’t have to scramble or move. But I have instincts ingrained in me from years of doing it. And if I get in those situations, that’s what I do. And until my legs fail me, it’s an asset to the offense.”
That’s Rodgers being a leader. He isn’t going to surrender his play-making ability – when necessary. That’s a healthy attitude.
In turn, LaFleur appears to get it.
“He’s played the game with a certain style for his whole career, and he’s done it at a pretty high level,” LaFleur told ESPN.com. “I think just some of the things that he’s been able to really enhance within our offense has been a lot of fun to watch.”
After supplying several examples from practice, he added, “We never want to take that playmaker away from him.”
So long as Rodgers gives LaFleur’s offense every chance to work, and the team knows that to be true, everything else he does beyond that is a bonus.
That’s because more often than not when Rodgers goes off script it’s for a good reason. I’m fine with Rodgers taking over when things break down. He’s made a ton of game-winning plays through the years in exactly that fashion.
What I’m hopeful of is that LaFleur’s presence will limit the number of times Rodgers is forced to go off script.
That’s the trick.